New Research Shows Social Enterprise Sector is Stronger Than Ever

18 April 2023

The latest research mapping the social enterprise sector in Wales has shown that post-Covid, the sector is going from strength to strength with high levels of entrepreneurial activity. 

Commissioned by Social Business Wales, Mapping the Social Business Sector in Wales (2022) revealed that: 

  • There are now approximately 2,828 businesses in the sector, an increase of 22% from 2020 (2,309). 
  • Social businesses now account for 2.6% of the total business stock in Wales, up from 2.2% in 2020.  
  • Total turnover for the sector is calculated as £4.8bn, an increase of 26% from 2020 (£3.8bn). This includes large enterprises such as Dŵr Cymru and Pobl.  
  • Total employment for the sector is calculated as 65,299, an increase of 16% from 2020 (56,000).  
  • The number of volunteers is calculated as 54,261, an increase of 14% from 2020 (47,443). 
  • A quarter of businesses surveyed are ‘start ups’ trading for 2 years or less. 

Since 2014, Social Business Wales has commissioned a biennial mapping survey of the social business sector in Wales. Carried out by Wavehill, the purpose of the mapping exercise is twofold: to understand the size and scale of the social business sector, and to conduct a health check of the sector (including identifying some of the challenges and opportunities faced). In 2022, the exercise was also an opportunity to understand how the sector has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Two years ago in 2020, the survey found a sector in recovery from Covid-19, where the impact of the pandemic was stalling growth rather than decline. In 2022, the sector was showing strong signs of expansion through entrepreneurial activity. 

There are however signs of vulnerability within the sector with evidence suggesting there may still be lingering effects from the pandemic, as well as pressures from a reduction in public funding, rising energy prices and high inflation. 

However, the prospects for business growth are optimistic over the long term, with many social businesses positive about their future turnover and profit. Indicators related to business development suggest that social businesses are seeking to expand and diversify, reporting a variety of business development indicators during the last two years. Many indicators have rebounded to be broadly in line with 2018 figures, following a fall in 2020. This suggests that during the pandemic, businesses were in a phase of consolidation or survival but are now seeking to grow again. 

Glenn Bowen is interim Chief Executive of Cwmpas, which delivers the Social Business Wales programme. He said: “This significant study highlights the increasingly important role that social businesses play in Welsh communities, particularly in the fight to tackle poverty. They frequently offer services in disadvantaged areas that would otherwise not be available; they create new employment opportunities, contribute to economic development in deprived communities, and often directly target their work to help disadvantaged people. This is more critical than ever in the face of financial pressures facing local authorities and the cost-of-living crisis facing our communities. 

“We hope that data from the mapping will help Welsh Government and local authorities to develop policies, plan and run public services, and allocate funding in order to continue supporting the sector.” 

Read the full 2022 sector mapping report and the summary here.

Social Business Wales is a business support programme funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Welsh Government. It is delivered by Cwmpas and is part of the Business Wales service.